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With a combination of impressive stage sets and special effects, magnificent costumes and the charming singing and acting of the cast, Wicked the Musical proves to be nothing short of spectacular and completely worthy of the multitude of awards bestowed on it thus far. The untold story of the origin of the Wicked Witch of the West has captivated fans around the world since its debut on Broadway in 2003. The stage sets, designed by scenic designer Eugene Lee, which took a crew of 17 a whole five days to complete, is currently adorning the stage in the vibrant city of Singapore.
The Time Dragon, together with the theatre proscenium comprised of an intricate clockwork design and weighing a massive four tonnes which required seven separate movers to set up, is first to greet the audience. The mechanical dragon, with its glowing red eyes and large life-like wings masterfully manipulated through ropes and pulleys, literally breathes life to the stage with smoke it produces when activated at various climaxes of the musical. Also note-worthy of the stage sets is the wizard’s apparatus in the Wizard of Oz’s chamber, introduced to the audience a little later in the musical as a tool the wizard utilises to impress his visitors. Indeed, it is absolutely remarkable not just in appearance but also in its mechanism. Known as the Oz Head, it is astonishing how something so heavy and metallic can be so expressive; its facial expressions are operated by one of the crew members and the puppet is capable of animated movement such as raising its eyebrows, rolling its eyes and realistically moving its jaws along with the wizard’s speech.
Susan Hilferty’s Tony Award winning costumes also warrant much mention; with a musical exploring the dichotomy between appearance and reality, costumes are of utmost importance. All 350 sets of outfits and 70 wigs involved in the musical were designed and cared for with much thought. When merged with the expressive acting and singing of the cast, the effect of the costumes is stunning.
The musical opens with Galinda the “good” witch’s grand entrance in a large bubble floating from the top of the stage, looking resplendent in blue dress adorned with sparkling jewels, undoubtedly marking her as the epitome of beauty and goodness. Actress Suzie Mathers’ radiant smile, girlish laughter and the high spirits emanating from her, make it difficult to imagine how all 20kg of the impressive bubble dress must weigh down on her. Each of Galinda’s costumes come perfectly matched with accessories ranging from a wand and tiara to little purses, effectively reflecting her excessively vain personality which nonetheless makes her even more endearing as a character. Galinda’s swift costume changes in between scenes, while one of the biggest challenges for the crew, does not fail to amaze the audience. Her brightly colored costumes harmonize with her excitable prancing about the stage and adorable squeaky exclamations — all reflecting the quintessential cheerleader stereotype she is associated with, befitting of a character so often described as “just too good”. It is easy to understand why she is so “Popular”, also the title of the upbeat song Galinda belts out, at the start of their unlikely friendship, to convince Elphaba of her capability to make her popular as well.
The course of the musical also sees Elphaba, played by Jemma Rix, complete her wicked witch ensemble piece by piece. From being born with green skin to the pointy hat Galinda openly disapproves of, but tricks her into wearing, to the flying broomstick Elphaba conjures up as a route of escape before being levitated to the top of the stage in the gripping final scene of the first act. With each addition to her costume, Elphaba’s increasingly misunderstood character transforms into the archetype of evil — but the audience is also reminded that in this case, the “wicked” witch is but a mere construct based on appearance.
The musical displays Elphaba’s development as a character, beginning when she good-naturedly, but mercilessly, pokes fun at her own skin at the start of the musical. She transforms from a girl resigned to a fate of being judged solely on her appearance into a feisty woman, ready to fight for her beliefs, however unconventional. Riz’s authentic acting makes palpable for the audience each agonizing decision and sacrifice she has to make in her pursuit for what she believes is right. Her touching rendition of “I’m Not that Girl” also successfully expresses all the heartbreak related to unreciprocated love, later matched in its reprise by Mathers’ equally soulful singing when a twist in the musical reverses the position of the two love rivals.
All in all, Wicked the musical, based on a 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, resolves the loose ends of Dorothy’s tale of Oz by revealing the back stories of among others the tin man, cowardly lion and the scarecrow and questioning the origin of wickedness. It is an incredible experience difficult to recapture completely in just words, which is why theatergoers in Singapore should head to the Grand Theater for the magical experience of a lifetime.